N'Keal Harry

How N’Keal Harry’s injury impacts Bears’ depth chart

Chicago Bears wide receiver N’Keal Harry suffered a high-ankle sprain during Saturday’s training camp practice. It’s an injury that’s likely to keep him out anywhere from six to eight weeks. Byron Pringle, the Bears’ biggest free-agent acquisition in free agency, is limping with a quad injury, too. With both wideouts shelved for an unknown amount of time, there’s an opportunity for a deep reserve to make a splash early in the preseason.

One player who’s taking advantage of his increased reps is veteran Tajae Sharpe, who coach Matt Eberflus praised over the weekend.

“When you have a guy step up like that, that’s awesome,” Eberflus said from Halas Hall. “That’s what it’s all about, right? Guys go down, guys step up, and Tajae did a nice job. We’re excited to have him back. He’s back now, and he looks good in the drills.”

It seemed like the odds for Sharpe to make the Chicago Bears’ final roster were weak, at best. Now, with N’Keal Harry out until at least mid-to-late September, a spot is ripe for the taking.

Sharpe’s journey to the Bears is a long and winding one. The former Tennessee Titan, Minnesota Viking, and Atlanta Falcon had an impressive rookie season in 2016 when he finished the year with 41 catches for 522 yards and two scores. He looked like a draft-day hit for the Titans, but his development stalled. He spent one year with the Vikings in 2020 — he totaled zero catches in four games — and spent the 2021 season with the Falcons, where he started seven games and totaled just 230 yards.

Tajae Sharpe’s resume isn’t all that impressive, but he was a quality draft prospect out of UMass who has good size, length, and contested-catch ability. He’ll look the part in practice, that’s for sure. If he makes the most out of his targets in preseason games, he could sneak his way onto the opening day squad.

Veteran Dante Pettis, a former second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, is also having an impressive training camp so far. In fact, he was trending as a guy who’d be tough to cut with how well he’s looked in practice. Now, with injuries to players who were likely to be slotted ahead of him on the depth chart, Pettis’ chance to stake his claim for a roster spot is real. I was a big fan of the Bears’ decision to sign Pettis, and he hasn’t disappointed.

Pettis looked like an ascending star during his rookie season in 2018. He scored five touchdowns and flashed explosive downfield playmaking ability. He fell out of favor with the 49ers’ coaching staff, however, and hasn’t been able to regain the form that once made him a popular dynasty pick in fantasy football.

If I had to bet on which wide receiver will make the biggest jump up the depth chart in the next few weeks, it’s Pettis. Assuming he has the ‘want-to’ in what’s likely to be his last shot in the league, he’s a sleeper to be a highly productive player in 2022.

Byron Pringle will resume his role as one of the Chicago Bears’ starting wideouts when he returns. N’Keal Harry, on the other hand, could be on shaky ground. He wasn’t a lock to make the final roster before his injury, and without a full evaluation of his fit in the offense during preseason games, he could become a victim of the numbers game on cutdown day.

Another name to monitor is David Moore, the former Seattle Seahawk and Green Bay Packer. Moore, like Pettis and Sharpe, was an exciting player early in his career with the Seahawks. His trip through free agency in 2021 turned into a bad decision to sign with the Carolina Panthers. He was cut at the end of training camp and bounced between the Denver Broncos and Packers as a non-factor last year. He’s got some ability, however, and could surprise during this summer’s slate of games.

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